Speckled trout fish kills caused by frigid water
, 2015

Speckled trout fish kills
caused by frigid water

by Larry Chowning

HARTFIELD—Plunging water temperatures have resulted in thousands of speckled trout dying in the Piankatank River, North River, Ware River, Mobjack Bay, and the Eastern and Western branches of the Corrotoman River.

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Retired Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) recreational fishery specialist Jon Lucy said dead speckled trout have been found in the Piankatank River from Freeport in Gloucester all the way to the Twigg Bridge near Hartfield.

“On the north side of the Piankatank, large numbers of dead fish have been found floating and on the bottom in Wilton and Healy creeks, and in waters between Stamper’s Bay Landing and Berkeley Island,” said Lucy. Dancing Creek and Fury Creek on the south bank of the Piankatank also have dead speckled trout.

“The fish we found today all look like they recently died,” said Lucy on Monday. “Their eyes are clear and gills pink.”

Former Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) officer Keith Nutthall said the first signs of the fish kill were discovered last week on the Eastern Branch of the Corrotoman River and have since spread to other creeks.

He said speckled trout are ordinarily migratory fish that go south in the winter for warmer water. Over the past three or four years, however, mild winters have caused the specks to stay in Chesapeake Bay, which proved fatal this year during one of the area’s coldest winters in decades.

An avid speckled trout recreational fisherman, Nutthall said he and a friend caught 54 speckled trout on January 14 at the headwaters of the Eastern Branch of the Corrotoman River. “We had seven citation fish and we kept the five-fish limit that we were entitled to and released the others.”

Nutthall said speckled trout fishing has been very productive the past few winters.

Trout stuns

The speckled trout kills are sometimes referred to as “trout stuns” because many of the fish are stunned by the cold water temperatures and later die. The fish cannot tolerate zero-degree nights and days when the temperature stays in the teens, said Lucy.

The state of North Carolina also had a massive speckled trout stun kill the first week in February, and officials there closed the recreational and commercial fisheries to give surviving trout a chance to spawn in the spring before the warm weather season opens.

Lucy said many of the fish are so chilled they can be caught in a hand-held landing net. He also said gill-netters have been going into Wilton Creek and catching hundreds of the fish.

“I think the fish need a break,” he said. “A lot of people will object to a moratorium but I think a closure would be the smartest thing to do to give the surviving fish a chance to spawn in the spring.”

Lucy said he and others will attend a February 19 meeting at VMRC and ask the commission to consider a speckled trout harvest closure in Virginia.

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